Story by Jill Vine, Images Mark and Kelly Hewes
On the drive from the airfield to Restoration Gateway you cross over a bridge on the Nile near Karuma Falls, which is the only passage in or out of the region and the very bridge Joseph Kony and his troops crossed when they were chased out of Uganda in 2009.
There are large tanks with guns aimed at the bridge across the river, in case Kony ever decides to return from wherever he is hiding in CAR, LDRC or South Sudan. Restoration Gateway’s name aptly describes this bridge’s gateway into the area where so much healing and restoration is still needed.
Praying under a tree
A couple heard the call of God on their lives back in 2006, feeling led to help those hurting from the aftermath of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which had ravaged many parts of Northern Uganda. They came across some pastors praying under a tree. They were praying for people to come and minister to this wounded region. From these prayers, Restoration Gateway (RG) was born, beginning with a small church which steadily grew into a self-sustaining, holistic community involving a large orphanage, school and more recently, a hospital.
'Isaac told us - one day he wants to be a pilot'
The McCalls purchased 700 acres of land overlooking the Nile that currently houses over 130 orphans, with plans to increase to 300. 30% of mothers die in childbirth, more than 20% have contracted AIDS in the region, and the rest of the population have an average life expectancy of just 50 years. This is why so many children are abandoned. Some of the kids at RG have tales from the LRA days. One of RG’s workers named Joel, was in his 20s when the LRA attempted to kidnap him. He piled some rations of food on his head and tried to cross the fast flowing river. He was rescued by a local fisherman.
A dream to fly
We spoke to one of the orphans named Isaac who was suffering from malaria at home, under the watchful eye of his house mother, Mother Rose, who he has known since birth. Isaac told us with few and quiet words that one day he wants to be a pilot. This was apparently because one of our pilots (Stefan Hug) flew some visitors over RG for development aerial maps needed and they took one of the orphans along with them. The orphans at RG haven’t stopped talking about the day that ‘Innocent’ flew like a bird over their heads and it seems to have inspired many of them to pursue a career in flying!
Music and words
The primary and secondary schools onsite are thriving and offer quality education with a clearly positive teaching staff. We heard about one of their students, Nelson, making a fiddle from whatever he could find in the dump. Now, just 4 years later, he’s one of the church worship musicians, playing the guitar.
Another orphan who hadn’t spoken about her life before coming to RG’s sanctuary, when asked to use the word ‘stunned’ in an interrogative sentence revealed more of her story when she said, 'Where is my real mother? My mother was stunned at the death of my father so she fled to another village.' We were visiting in exam time, so many of the students were attentively at their desks for their finals.
Healthcare and hope
The brand new hospital with 130 beds across 6 wards (surgical, obstetrics, women and men, paediatric, isolation and surgical theatre) is scheduled to open in April. Hospital equipment had been shipped in from the US so the hospital can offer quality care to the villages in the surrounding area. Dr. Colby Cessnun is already treating a few patients at the hospital’s day clinic.
'Restoration Gateway give good quality care for 10,000 ugs instead of the usual 50,000 – 100,000 elsewhere which we can’t afford. I’ve come 5 times to see Dr Colby and my health is improving. He’s an excellent doctor. He treats us like we are his brothers.'
Heart for Ugandans
Colby talked about his reason for living in the middle of nowhere. 'My heart is here with the Ugandan people. We came to build relationships and we’ve loved seeing how God’s work is growing.' Colby then treated a little boy with a hernia, who whimpered quietly as his swollen belly was examined. He had signs of anaemia so was also tested for malaria.
Dr Colby and Mary Anne Cessnun and their 9 children are holding the fort while the McCall’s are away in America. Colby explained how the drive from Entebbe airport to RG takes 6 hours - compared to the one hour flight with MAF. Since Colby and his family arrived in Uganda in 2012, they have known a handful of people who have been killed using the roads. Up until now, MAF has primarily helped fly occasional visitors for Restoration Gateway, but with the hospital opening, and their other programs expanding, MAF will be depended upon more and more to help bring in the international medical staff in to help train the local staff on the ground.